Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 11, 2013

Is Kerry the Worst Secretary of State Ever?

During his first term in office, President Obama was criticized by conservatives for conducting what they dubbed apology tours in which he always seemed to find something in American history for which he felt compelled to make amends. To his surprise, neither apologies nor the magic of his personality and historic status were able to conceal the fact that he was far better at alienating America’s traditional allies than winning new friends. But as awkward as the president proved to be at diplomacy, even that experience did not prepare the world for John Kerry. In less than a year, he has not only already repeated these mistakes but also exceeded them. Currently on yet another apology tour of his own in the Middle East, where he is desperately trying to reassure moderate Arab countries that he has not sold them down the river in his vain quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, American prestige and trust in Washington’s word are at a low point in recent history.

In just the last week, Kerry has personally exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that were already complicated by his lust for a peace deal that no one else thought possible. He stabbed both Israel and the moderate Arab states in the back by publicly accepting the terms of a weak nuclear deal with Iran that would have likely started the collapse of sanctions against Tehran and put in motion a process that would have made it possible for the Islamist state to reach their nuclear goal. He then added to that folly by rushing to Geneva to sign that agreement only to be embarrassed by the insistence of the French—of all countries—that there at least be a fig leaf of accountability for the arrangement. That blew up the P5+1 talks and left Kerry trying to explain both his appeasement and the failure while also obviously fibbing about the last-minute conditions being his idea rather than the brainchild of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It must be admitted that to have done so much damage to American interests in so little time is quite an accomplishment. Though he has plenty of competition for the title, John Kerry may have already become America’s worst secretary of state in history.

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During his first term in office, President Obama was criticized by conservatives for conducting what they dubbed apology tours in which he always seemed to find something in American history for which he felt compelled to make amends. To his surprise, neither apologies nor the magic of his personality and historic status were able to conceal the fact that he was far better at alienating America’s traditional allies than winning new friends. But as awkward as the president proved to be at diplomacy, even that experience did not prepare the world for John Kerry. In less than a year, he has not only already repeated these mistakes but also exceeded them. Currently on yet another apology tour of his own in the Middle East, where he is desperately trying to reassure moderate Arab countries that he has not sold them down the river in his vain quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, American prestige and trust in Washington’s word are at a low point in recent history.

In just the last week, Kerry has personally exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that were already complicated by his lust for a peace deal that no one else thought possible. He stabbed both Israel and the moderate Arab states in the back by publicly accepting the terms of a weak nuclear deal with Iran that would have likely started the collapse of sanctions against Tehran and put in motion a process that would have made it possible for the Islamist state to reach their nuclear goal. He then added to that folly by rushing to Geneva to sign that agreement only to be embarrassed by the insistence of the French—of all countries—that there at least be a fig leaf of accountability for the arrangement. That blew up the P5+1 talks and left Kerry trying to explain both his appeasement and the failure while also obviously fibbing about the last-minute conditions being his idea rather than the brainchild of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It must be admitted that to have done so much damage to American interests in so little time is quite an accomplishment. Though he has plenty of competition for the title, John Kerry may have already become America’s worst secretary of state in history.

Some observers are wondering today whether Kerry’s decision to essentially recognize Iran’s “right” to refine uranium and his reluctance to include Iran’s plutonium nuclear plans in the proposed agreement will complicate the Middle East peace process that he has spent so much effort promoting. But to claim that America’s decision to prioritize détente with Iran over its obligation to allies will make it harder for an agreement to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. But those who are making this argument are misreading the situation. Israelis are understandably aggrieved about a U.S. policy shift that seems to have accepted Iran’s nuclear program as a fait accompli. But the peace talks were already a disaster before Kerry further alienated Israelis and moderate Arabs over his failed attempt to appease Iran. It was possible to argue that a strong American stand on Iran could have made Israel feel more comfortable making more concessions to the Palestinians. But even before he had announced his betrayal on Iran, Kerry vented his spleen about the standoff against Israel in a way that made no secret of his belief that only they were to blame for the failure of his idea. Having forced both parties into talks that were clearly fated to fail due to the division among Palestinians and their obvious unwillingness to accept statehood on generous terms that they’ve already rejected three times, Kerry can’t own up to the fact that his idea never had a chance and thus prefers to blame Israel for his own errors.

The problem here is twofold.

The first is Kerry’s exalted vision of his own diplomatic skills. As soon he was sworn in, he threw caution to the winds and embarked on a course that a wiser man would have understood was merely a repeat of the mistakes of the past. Better men and more skillful diplomats than Kerry have failed under more propitious circumstances than the current situation, in which Hamas rules Gaza and a weak and fearful Fatah holds onto the West Bank only with the help of Israel. But Kerry’s hubris is such that he appears to be genuinely shocked by the apparent failure of his initiative and is now lashing out wildly and going so far as to threaten Israel with more Palestinian violence if Prime Minister Netanyahu does not bend to his will.

That flaw in Kerry’s makeup is compounded by another fatal shortcoming in a diplomat: his naked zeal for the deal. The Iranians have read him perfectly and found it possible to get the West to come much closer to their position on their right to enrich uranium without having to budge an inch. If Tehran’s envoys refused to accede to France’s reasonable concerns it was because they believe Kerry and President Obama will eventually cave in to their demands just as they’ve moved off of their previous insistence that sanctions will not be weakened.

All this was bad enough, but the ham-handed way Kerry’s has barged around the Middle East making enemies was made even more foolish looking by Kerry’s lame post-Geneva explanations for his behavior. That he did all this only months after presiding over the administration’s disastrous retreat on Syria and the collapse of its influence in Egypt on his watch renders his recent tenure one of the most disastrous in modern American history.

Kerry’s conduct must even have the White House starting to rethink the decision to give him the freedom to carry out his plans. Though his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments in her four years at Foggy Bottom were slim (other, that is, than racking up frequent flier miles), right now she is starting to look like a foreign-policy giant by comparison. The only question now is whether at some point President Obama will have to step up and rein in Kerry before he does his already troubled second term the kind of damage that will not only harm America’s standing abroad but hurt it at home.

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Max Boot: Nothing Else Like COMMENTARY

There is more commentary in the world than ever before—whether in print, on the air, or on the Internet. But there is still a dearth of serious, informed commentary that reports, analyzes, and argues without ever stooping to name-calling or vitriol. If you further narrow down the segment of the commentariat that looks at the world from a conservative and Jewish perspective—well, you’re left with only one choice. The magazine you are now reading. COMMENTARY has changed over the years—for instance, it now publishes this blog—but one thing that has not changed is its steadfast commitment to providing the best analysis from the most informed writers of the most important ideas in the world, all written in clear prose that appeals to a general audience. There is nothing else like it. Never has been, never will be.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

There is more commentary in the world than ever before—whether in print, on the air, or on the Internet. But there is still a dearth of serious, informed commentary that reports, analyzes, and argues without ever stooping to name-calling or vitriol. If you further narrow down the segment of the commentariat that looks at the world from a conservative and Jewish perspective—well, you’re left with only one choice. The magazine you are now reading. COMMENTARY has changed over the years—for instance, it now publishes this blog—but one thing that has not changed is its steadfast commitment to providing the best analysis from the most informed writers of the most important ideas in the world, all written in clear prose that appeals to a general audience. There is nothing else like it. Never has been, never will be.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

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The Flawed Christie-Giuliani Narrative

The political press has picked up the comparison between Chris Christie 2016 and Rudy Giuliani 2008 with gusto. This is a flawed comparison, though one can understand why reporters would be drawn to it. It fits a preexisting narrative and offers superficial similarities. But the problem is not only that the parallels may be weaker than they seem (they almost always are); it’s that the initial frames are wrong to begin with, and the press end up comparing new candidates to former candidates who never really existed.

That’s especially true in Giuliani’s case, since the “first draft of history” written about his campaign is demonstrably false. Yet it has somehow become Giuliani’s story anyway. And it finds its way into even solid stories by knowledgeable reporters. For example, here’s Politico’s latest on the Christie-Rudy comparison. It does a good job debunking many of the supposed similarities, but then we find this, as a red flag:

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The political press has picked up the comparison between Chris Christie 2016 and Rudy Giuliani 2008 with gusto. This is a flawed comparison, though one can understand why reporters would be drawn to it. It fits a preexisting narrative and offers superficial similarities. But the problem is not only that the parallels may be weaker than they seem (they almost always are); it’s that the initial frames are wrong to begin with, and the press end up comparing new candidates to former candidates who never really existed.

That’s especially true in Giuliani’s case, since the “first draft of history” written about his campaign is demonstrably false. Yet it has somehow become Giuliani’s story anyway. And it finds its way into even solid stories by knowledgeable reporters. For example, here’s Politico’s latest on the Christie-Rudy comparison. It does a good job debunking many of the supposed similarities, but then we find this, as a red flag:

There are two constants between Giuliani and Christie – advisers Mike DuHaime and Maria Comella.

DuHaime, Giuliani’s presidential campaign manager, is a senior adviser to Christie since 2009. Comella, a Giuliani presidential campaign press aide, is Christie’s communications director.

DuHaime came under fire for Giuliani’s failed “Florida firewall” strategy, but has since been integral to Christie’s two successful campaigns. Comella is broadly respected and her team has shown the kind of web proficiency necessary in a modern campaign. …

Craig Robinson, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party and founder of The Iowa Republican website, argued that Christie’s team needs to show more than they did with Giulian (sic). If they do, he said, “the sky’s the limit” for Christie.

This “Florida firewall” myth has stuck, but it’s just that–a myth. That’s due in large part to Giuliani himself, who wanted to deflect concern about his early primary losses by suggesting he was waiting for Florida to turn the tide. But that’s not actually what happened.

“Rudy Giuliani would bypass early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire on his way to more moderate, voter-rich states like Florida and California, many pundits once predicted,” scoffed the New York Daily News in October 2007. “But a look at the presidential hopeful’s campaign datebook shows the former mayor is hunkering down in the two early battlegrounds far more than in other primary states.”

The Daily News backed up its headline, “Rudy Giuliani defies critics, campaigns hard in early states,” by reporting that Giuliani had spent more time in New Hampshire and Iowa than did John McCain, who eventually went on to win the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. The Daily News was onto something. In January 2008, after the New Hampshire primary in which Giuliani placed fourth, Jake Tapper and Karen Travers reported for ABC News that Giuliani held more events in New Hampshire than McCain, Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton did.

And it wasn’t just events. Giuliani spent millions on television advertising in New Hampshire–almost as much as McCain and more than Huckabee and Ron Paul combined. So what happened? Tapper and Travers explained:

But after a few weeks, when his poll numbers traveled downward instead of in the preferred direction, the former mayor’s campaign said it would stick with his original plan. In December an anonymous “top Giuliani aide” told The Politico newspaper that the new plan would allow the former mayor’s campaign “to marshal our resources for Florida and Feb. 5, while keeping options open for changes in the early states.”

He was competing and still losing, so he told Politico that he wasn’t really trying, that he was waiting for Florida and letting the other candidates tussle over the early states while he built his “firewall.” And so the “Florida firewall” story was ingested by Politico and remains a fixture of Giuliani-related stories to this day.

And now that Christie employs one of the same Giuliani advisors who was an architect of a plan that ultimately stayed on the shelf, the other comparisons between the candidates come alive, as if Christie would–or even could–run the same kind of campaign Giuliani did.

He can’t, though. Giuliani had to lean on 9/11 to a certain degree because he was otherwise incompatible with Republican primary voters. The former mayor ran as a pro-choice Republican. Christie is pro-life. And though Giuliani proved himself on 9/11 to be the kind of leader the country could count on in a crisis, national-security issues just don’t tend to dominate presidential elections.

Overall, the two candidates have major differences on nearly every subject of consequence. Yes, they’re both from the Northeast. But if political reporters can’t tell the difference between candidates because they hail from states near each other, 2016 is going to be a long silly season.

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How Did Pakistani Polio Enter Syria?

News that Syria now faces its first polio outbreak since the virus was eradicated there back in 1999 highlights the public health side of the tragedy. Syrians face not only horrific violence perpetrated by both the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition but also a lack of clean water and a resurgence of preventable diseases.

Disease does not simply erupt spontaneously. There is always a patient zero or a catalyst. Disease is evidence that is often illuminating. Historians of China have used medical records relating to the spread of syphilis to document early modern European trade routes.

When I was in Yemen in 1995, locals warned me (superfluously) that I should not drink the mountain well water without first boiling it. The problem? Egyptian troops intervening in Yemen’s 1962-1970 civil war found it funny to relieve themselves in wells. The result? A giardia outbreak which continues to this day.

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News that Syria now faces its first polio outbreak since the virus was eradicated there back in 1999 highlights the public health side of the tragedy. Syrians face not only horrific violence perpetrated by both the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition but also a lack of clean water and a resurgence of preventable diseases.

Disease does not simply erupt spontaneously. There is always a patient zero or a catalyst. Disease is evidence that is often illuminating. Historians of China have used medical records relating to the spread of syphilis to document early modern European trade routes.

When I was in Yemen in 1995, locals warned me (superfluously) that I should not drink the mountain well water without first boiling it. The problem? Egyptian troops intervening in Yemen’s 1962-1970 civil war found it funny to relieve themselves in wells. The result? A giardia outbreak which continues to this day.

The Syrian polio outbreak now seems not simply to be the result of the collapse of state infrastructure, but also the inflow of jihadis from polio-prone areas. According to news reports:

Polio that has crippled at least 13 children in Syria has been confirmed as being caused by a strain of the virus that originated in Pakistan and is spreading across the Middle East, the World Health Organization said. Genetic sequencing shows the strain found in Syrian children in Deir al-Zor, where an outbreak was detected last month, is linked to the strain of Pakistani origin found in sewage in Egypt, Israel and Palestinian territories in the past year.

While the World Health Organization has moved to quash speculation that Pakistani jihadists unwittingly carried the Pakistani polio strain into Syria, there are no other likely alternate explanations. Certainly, there has been no influx of Pakistani 2-year-olds into a region of Syria so engulfed in civil war. The Syrian government has jumped at that theory that Pakistani jihadis introduced the virus. And while the Syrian regime may be noxious, that does not mean they are wrong. Because scientists have also detected the Pakistani strain in Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, transmission into the Syrian outbreak zones might have as easily been transmitted via Egyptians or Palestinians fighting in Syria.

While the World Health Organization has redoubled its vaccination efforts in Syria, the Syrian outbreak originated outside. It is not easy to enter Syria, even as a jihadist joining the Syrian resistance. Fortunately, these fighters are helped by officials in neighboring countries turning a blind eye at airports alongside Syria’s borders. Perhaps it’s time for Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq to end their willingness to look the other way as unvaccinated third-world jihadis transit their countries on their way to cause mayhem in Syria.

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Democrats Want to Win. Does the GOP?

In the classic Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film State of the Union one of the characters, a veteran Republican politician played by Adolf Menjou, defined the difference between the country’s two major parties thusly, “They’re in and we’re out.” That cynical view summed up the way party hacks viewed the electoral process. The only goal was to win; ideology, principle and policies were secondary considerations at best. American politics has come a long way since the era of bosses and smoke-filled rooms that were essential to that story, loosely based on the rise of 1940 GOP presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Pundits routinely tell us that we now live in an era when pure partisanship disconnected from ideology is on the wane. The civil war that threatens to tear apart contemporary Republicans, as Tea Party activists seek to slay the dragon of the GOP “establishment,” is an example of just how different things are today.

But not, apparently, in the Democratic Party. As today’s Politico story about Kentucky Democrats plotting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell illustrates, some of the most liberal groups and donors in the country are putting aside any scruples about their most closely held principles in pursuit of winning nothing more than an election. As they have in more instances than you can count in the last decade, liberals are playing by the old rules of politics while their opponents are doing something entirely different. While they are opening themselves up for criticism from their base, it appears that a party once known as the epitome of anarchy is focused on one thing and one thing only: holding onto Congress.

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In the classic Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film State of the Union one of the characters, a veteran Republican politician played by Adolf Menjou, defined the difference between the country’s two major parties thusly, “They’re in and we’re out.” That cynical view summed up the way party hacks viewed the electoral process. The only goal was to win; ideology, principle and policies were secondary considerations at best. American politics has come a long way since the era of bosses and smoke-filled rooms that were essential to that story, loosely based on the rise of 1940 GOP presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Pundits routinely tell us that we now live in an era when pure partisanship disconnected from ideology is on the wane. The civil war that threatens to tear apart contemporary Republicans, as Tea Party activists seek to slay the dragon of the GOP “establishment,” is an example of just how different things are today.

But not, apparently, in the Democratic Party. As today’s Politico story about Kentucky Democrats plotting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell illustrates, some of the most liberal groups and donors in the country are putting aside any scruples about their most closely held principles in pursuit of winning nothing more than an election. As they have in more instances than you can count in the last decade, liberals are playing by the old rules of politics while their opponents are doing something entirely different. While they are opening themselves up for criticism from their base, it appears that a party once known as the epitome of anarchy is focused on one thing and one thing only: holding onto Congress.

As Politico notes, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is no favorite of environmentalists. The Democrat’s likely candidate against McConnell is a supporter of the coal industry and a critic of the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate the fossil fuel industry out of existence. But that isn’t stopping leading “climate change activists” and Democratic donors from lining up to help her with their wallets open.

“It is far better to win the Senate than have every senator on the same page,” [Susie Tompkins] Buell said in an email after an October fundraiser she and her husband, Mark, held for Grimes at their California home. “We can’t always be idealistic. Practicality is the political reality.”

Adolf Menjou couldn’t have put it any better.

For decades, the Democratic Party was wracked by dissension as liberal ideologues sought to purge conservatives from their ranks. Their efforts were largely successful, as the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats have now left the Senate and the ranks of the Blue Dogs in the House have been thinned to a precious few. While Republicans were eliminating their liberal wing too, the left’s ascendency on one side of the aisle helped pave the way for the GOP revival that ended a half-century of unchallenged Democratic control of Congress. But when faced with a choice between winning an election and purifying their party of any remnants of centrism, liberals seemed to have learned their lesson. As they did in Pennsylvania when they backed a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat in Bob Casey in order to unseat Rick Santorum, liberal donors have their eye on the big prize and are resisting the impulse to nominate more ideologically compatible candidates in favor of someone who can help increase the size of the Democratic caucus in the Capitol.

This wouldn’t be important except for the fact that conservatives are heading in the opposite direction. Across the nation, Tea Partiers are more focused on ending the careers of Republicans that are insufficiently conservative than they are on defeating Democrats and say, making Harry Reid the minority leader rather than the man in charge of the majority. It’s hard not to sympathize with those who are tired of politics as usual and those who waffle rather than take strong stands on the issues. The choice between principle and winning is also not always so clear-cut, as some Tea Party challengers are good candidates and some establishment favorites are duds. But the main point here is that if one of the parties is only concerned with winning and much of their opposition is more interested in something else, you don’t need to be a master prognosticator to know which side is more likely to win.

In real life, politics is not a Frank Capra film where the honest good guys always triumph in the end. Assembling a congressional majority requires compromises and living with candidates that don’t always meet ideological litmus tests but give parties a better chance to win. It may be that in 2013, the answer to the question about the difference between the parties isn’t who’s out and who’s in but which one understands that basic fact of political life.

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Iraqis Thank U.S. Troops and Seek New Partnership

President George W. Bush made not one decision, but two when he believed it necessary to rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The first was to utilize military force, but the second was even more momentous: Rather than simply replace one dictator with another, he sought to provide with a framework toward democracy. That decision, which is far too recent for historians to judge adequately, prolonged the American presence. Almost 4,500 American soldiers lost their lives not only to address a destabilizing threat Saddam Hussein posed but also to bring a chance at freedom to the Iraqi people.

While Islamist radicals used Saddam’s fall to rally their forces, and Iranian-backed militias moved in to intimidate Iraqis in predominantly Shi’ite areas, many ordinary Iraqis enjoyed their first breaths of freedom during the short honeymoon period before insurgency exploded. Two of my most memorable experiences occurred in the months immediately following Iraq’s liberation. In one case, I accompanied an Iraqi returnee I met randomly in the governor’s office of a southern province home to the house he fled two decades earlier. He had not told his parents he was coming, nor had he contacted them during his time abroad for fear that the regime might retaliate, as he was wanted for alleged opposition activities at the time he fled.

The look on his father’s face—and his mother’s—when they saw the son they believed to be in a mass grave was priceless, and the impromptu neighborhood celebration memorable. Likewise, in Kirkuk I was able to use my satellite phone first to find a woman’s exiled daughter and then let her speak to her mother for the first time in more than a decade, letting the woman not only reconnect to her child but also learn about her three grandchildren. I was not alone in such experiences. U.S. soldiers had far more contact with Iraqis than did diplomats, and such stories were the rule rather than the exception.

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President George W. Bush made not one decision, but two when he believed it necessary to rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The first was to utilize military force, but the second was even more momentous: Rather than simply replace one dictator with another, he sought to provide with a framework toward democracy. That decision, which is far too recent for historians to judge adequately, prolonged the American presence. Almost 4,500 American soldiers lost their lives not only to address a destabilizing threat Saddam Hussein posed but also to bring a chance at freedom to the Iraqi people.

While Islamist radicals used Saddam’s fall to rally their forces, and Iranian-backed militias moved in to intimidate Iraqis in predominantly Shi’ite areas, many ordinary Iraqis enjoyed their first breaths of freedom during the short honeymoon period before insurgency exploded. Two of my most memorable experiences occurred in the months immediately following Iraq’s liberation. In one case, I accompanied an Iraqi returnee I met randomly in the governor’s office of a southern province home to the house he fled two decades earlier. He had not told his parents he was coming, nor had he contacted them during his time abroad for fear that the regime might retaliate, as he was wanted for alleged opposition activities at the time he fled.

The look on his father’s face—and his mother’s—when they saw the son they believed to be in a mass grave was priceless, and the impromptu neighborhood celebration memorable. Likewise, in Kirkuk I was able to use my satellite phone first to find a woman’s exiled daughter and then let her speak to her mother for the first time in more than a decade, letting the woman not only reconnect to her child but also learn about her three grandchildren. I was not alone in such experiences. U.S. soldiers had far more contact with Iraqis than did diplomats, and such stories were the rule rather than the exception.

I typically visit Iraq twice each year, and gratitude Iraqis feel toward the United States remains. True, many Iraqis had grown frustrated with American occupation in the interim years, and they do not hesitate to point out what they see as mistakes (re-Baathification rather than de-Baathification chief among them) but they value liberty more than those who so often try to speak on Iraqis’ behalf in various circles. Now that the Americans are gone—and with the American diplomatic presence pretty much invisible behind the embassy’s blast walls—Iraqis increasingly look at an American presence–not occupation certainly but a presence–with longing. Sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Lukman Faily, Iraq’s talented new ambassador to the United States, has an important thank you in today’s USA Today. He begins:

My first trip to the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery was on a rainy Friday afternoon, soon after my arrival in Washington. As the newly appointed ambassador to the United States from Iraq, it was important for me to honor the brave American men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion so that the people I represent may live to be free. Standing before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and gazing over the rolling hills of Arlington, I was struck by the depth of the sacrifices borne by the United States to defeat tyranny, support the oppressed and build democratic institutions around the world.

And he gives credit where so much credit is due:

In my country, nearly 2 million more U.S. military personnel served and helped liberate my country from Saddam Hussein and defeat al-Qaeda. Iraq is on track to join other countries that have benefited from America’s sacrifices. Our economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, oil production is growing, democratic institutions are maturing and our sixth round of elections is scheduled for April of next year. These successes were not generated solely by Iraqis. America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and foreign service officers helped set Iraq on the path to success — and we are thankful to all of those brave men and women.

Having come to Washington after several years in Tokyo, Ambassador Faily understands the importance of post-war relationships. How tragic it is, then, that the United States has been so lacking in maximizing its relationship with Iraq. Iraq wants greater ties. Iraq and the United States face a common foe in al-Qaeda. It is short-sighted not to grasp Iraq’s outstretched hand but for much of the past two years, the United States has effectively closed the door on its relationship with Iraq. When Faily concludes, “The United States remains Iraq’s ally of choice; on this day, we reflect on, and learn from our past, and look forward to building on our partnership in the years to come,” let us hope that the White House and Congress are listening.

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Michael Medved: The Incomparable COMMENTARY

I first subscribed to COMMENTARY in 1973, as a recovering liberal who had invested four years of my young life in writing speeches for a constellation of McGovernite candidates and office-holders. Living in Berkeley at the time, I relished COMMENTARY as a guilty pleasure, feeling grateful that the magazine arrived each month discreetly disguised in a plain, brown wrapper that concealed its suspiciously neo-conservative content. In the militantly leftist community in which I functioned forty years ago, receiving regular monthly installments of the most degrading porn would have produced far less embarrassment than my growing devotion to the persuasive prose of Norman Podhoretz and Co.

Yes, my personal journey from left to right-center involved the usual biographical factors, including the three P’s: paychecks, parenthood, and prayer. Paychecks, because they arrived with shocking subtractions in the form of onerous and incomprehensible taxes; parenthood, because responsibility for a new generation forced a longer-term perspective; and prayer, because my own growing Jewish observance led to the conclusion that my “idealistic” ’60s generation, with all its narcissism and preening self-regard, might not provide life’s ultimate answers after all. Fortunately for me, reading COMMENTARY with near-religious regularity helped to organize my onrushing insights and experience into a more coherent world view. In a dark time in our nation’s history, while surviving (temporarily) in the most unhinged corner of the continent, this incomparable publication persuaded me that I wasn’t alone.  

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

I first subscribed to COMMENTARY in 1973, as a recovering liberal who had invested four years of my young life in writing speeches for a constellation of McGovernite candidates and office-holders. Living in Berkeley at the time, I relished COMMENTARY as a guilty pleasure, feeling grateful that the magazine arrived each month discreetly disguised in a plain, brown wrapper that concealed its suspiciously neo-conservative content. In the militantly leftist community in which I functioned forty years ago, receiving regular monthly installments of the most degrading porn would have produced far less embarrassment than my growing devotion to the persuasive prose of Norman Podhoretz and Co.

Yes, my personal journey from left to right-center involved the usual biographical factors, including the three P’s: paychecks, parenthood, and prayer. Paychecks, because they arrived with shocking subtractions in the form of onerous and incomprehensible taxes; parenthood, because responsibility for a new generation forced a longer-term perspective; and prayer, because my own growing Jewish observance led to the conclusion that my “idealistic” ’60s generation, with all its narcissism and preening self-regard, might not provide life’s ultimate answers after all. Fortunately for me, reading COMMENTARY with near-religious regularity helped to organize my onrushing insights and experience into a more coherent world view. In a dark time in our nation’s history, while surviving (temporarily) in the most unhinged corner of the continent, this incomparable publication persuaded me that I wasn’t alone.  

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

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The Middle-Class ObamaCare Conundrum

A funny thing is happening on the way to universal popularity and acceptance for the president’s signature health-care legislation. No, I’m not referring to the dysfunctional website that turned ObamaCare and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius into a laughingstock. As bad as the website’s problems have been and continue to be, the growing coverage of Americans who have lost their coverage as a result of the new law, as well as the higher costs many, if not most of them are now facing, poses a far greater danger to ObamaCare’s supporters.

The key to understanding the strategy employed by the administration is their total faith in the idea that although the rollout might be problematic, once it is implemented the new benefits granted to poor Americans would become so popular as to make it untouchable. Like Social Security and Medicare, they reasoned that the reality of ObamaCare would render it invulnerable to criticism, let alone repeal. That was a belief shared by Republicans who feared the same thing and clearly impelled Tea Party supporters to back a government shutdown as a last-ditch attempt to derail the law. But the drip-drip of stories about those who are ObamaCare losers is showing that both liberals and conservatives may have been dead wrong about the bill’s staying power.

An example of this comes today from, of all places, the New York Times op-ed page where psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb writes about the misfortune of being a self-employed person whose insurance was dropped and then replaced with a new plan that cost her a whopping $5,400 extra per annum. As she writes, her new coverage is “better” as President Obama and his apologists keep insisting, but that comes with a few caveats:

Now if I have Stage 4 cancer or need a sex-change operation, I’d be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions. Never mind that the new provider network would eliminate coverage for my and my son’s long-term doctors and hospitals.

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A funny thing is happening on the way to universal popularity and acceptance for the president’s signature health-care legislation. No, I’m not referring to the dysfunctional website that turned ObamaCare and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius into a laughingstock. As bad as the website’s problems have been and continue to be, the growing coverage of Americans who have lost their coverage as a result of the new law, as well as the higher costs many, if not most of them are now facing, poses a far greater danger to ObamaCare’s supporters.

The key to understanding the strategy employed by the administration is their total faith in the idea that although the rollout might be problematic, once it is implemented the new benefits granted to poor Americans would become so popular as to make it untouchable. Like Social Security and Medicare, they reasoned that the reality of ObamaCare would render it invulnerable to criticism, let alone repeal. That was a belief shared by Republicans who feared the same thing and clearly impelled Tea Party supporters to back a government shutdown as a last-ditch attempt to derail the law. But the drip-drip of stories about those who are ObamaCare losers is showing that both liberals and conservatives may have been dead wrong about the bill’s staying power.

An example of this comes today from, of all places, the New York Times op-ed page where psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb writes about the misfortune of being a self-employed person whose insurance was dropped and then replaced with a new plan that cost her a whopping $5,400 extra per annum. As she writes, her new coverage is “better” as President Obama and his apologists keep insisting, but that comes with a few caveats:

Now if I have Stage 4 cancer or need a sex-change operation, I’d be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions. Never mind that the new provider network would eliminate coverage for my and my son’s long-term doctors and hospitals.

This complaint is acknowledged by yet another pro-ObamaCare editorial published by the same newspaper that finally acknowledged that millions of Americans are going to be adversely affected by the plan. The Times assures us that those who are being inconvenienced by liberal largesse are better off in the long run, but even if they are not, they are confident that “not all … will necessarily be upset” about it. But as the number of ObamaCare losers grows as the effects are gradually felt throughout the health-care system, that faith may prove to be misplaced. As more people like Gottlieb voice their grievances, the notion that the law is irrevocable may prove to be a myth.

Gottlieb, who clearly is part of a liberal milieu, complains that few in her circle are particularly sympathetic. Most seem to think that helping the poor is worth the cost of bilking those who are somewhat better off. Judging by the reaction of her 1,000-plus Facebook friends, her statement that “the president should be protecting the middle class, not making our lives substantially harder” isn’t getting much traction. But it would be foolish for anyone, especially those working hard to silence such complaints, to think that public opinion, which polls show has always viewed ObamaCare negatively, will react in the same way.

This is a critical point. So long as the discussion about ObamaCare was one pitting conservative complaints about an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government and the perils of moving a step closer to socialized medicine against the well being of the poor and the uninsured, both Democrats and Republicans were probably right to think that implementation would be the effective end of the debate. But, to the surprise of both the left and the right, the discussion has moved from economic and constitutional principles to something more visceral and far more dangerous to the president’s plans. Once those opposing ObamaCare are able to use that magic phrase, “protecting the middle class” in the context of opposing liberal projects rather than in defense of them, a tipping point may have been reached.

Lori Gottlieb’s liberal Facebook friends may not think her plight is worth caring about. But the critical mass of voters will always be moved to anger against anything that is perceived as an attack on the vast middle class that forms the majority of the electorate and the backbone of American society.

Americans are a goodhearted and generous people. That’s why the Times thinks they will absorb this blow without much complaint because creating a new federal “health care safety net” is worth it. But unlike previous federal entitlements that expanded benefits for many and hurt few, ObamaCare is predicated on a very different formula that may, despite the Times’s assurances, hurt as many, if not more, people than it helps. That is something very different from Social Security or even Medicare. Like the corruption and the social pathologies bred by the welfare state that liberals have also urged Americans to accept whether they like it or not, this makes ObamaCare a subject for permanent debate and possible repeal. Conservatives who acted rashly out of despair this fall need to understand that when Obama loses the Lori Gottliebs of this world, liberalism starts to lose.

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Bill de Blasio and New York’s New Normal

Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy later this month, remembrances of that era are everywhere. But in 2007, the New York Times reported on another reason to look back to 1963:

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Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy later this month, remembrances of that era are everywhere. But in 2007, the New York Times reported on another reason to look back to 1963:

As 2007 draws to a close, it seems very likely that there will be fewer than 500 killings in the city (as of Sunday evening, there had been 492) for the first time since reliable records started being kept.

That was 1963.

The body count that year reflected the beginnings of what was to be an alarming rise in the city’s murder rate through 1990.

So if you live in New York today, you may remember the bad old days of high crime, but you probably don’t remember the last time the city was as safe as it has been in the current era. That’s the message Republican candidate Joe Lhota tried to send in his campaign ads against de Blasio. But the ads fell flat.

In fact, the reality of New York in 2013 left Lhota–a former deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration–grasping to conjure visions of a dangerous past as prologue. In one ad, he used footage from a recent biker gang attack to make his point. Yet this made no sense: showing recent crimes that took place under the “right” kind of public safety strategy is surely not a very good way to argue against theoretical changes in that strategy.

It was a riddle Lhota never came close to solving: how do you explain the consequences of certain policies to voters who aren’t familiar with either the consequences or the policies? Lhota might as well have been regaling the crowds with stories of how he used to walk to school uphill in the snow both ways while carrying his shoes.

But that doesn’t mean the new normal worked solely to de Blasio’s benefit. The very same elements that helped him win the mayoral election will likely have the opposite effect once in office. What kind of tolerance will the brunch-and-farmer’s-market crowd have for unsafe streets? De Blasio doesn’t want to find out.

And that means de Blasio will be confronted with a fact many on the left have, against all evidence, relentlessly denied: the NYPD is keeping the city safe. As Heather Mac Donald explained in the New York Post just before Election Day:

In the ’90s, the local press incessantly promoted other cities’ crime records as rivals to New York’s, so desperate was it to discredit the idea that New York’s dependency-routing Republican mayor and his newly assertive police department were behind the New York turnaround. Yet, by decade’s end, those other cities’ crime declines — most notably San Diego’s and Boston’s — flattened out or reversed. …

Today, Boston’s murder rate is twice New York’s; Washington DC’s is three times New York’s; Baltimore’s, five times. If New York’s blacks faced the same homicide risk as San Diego’s blacks, our city’s overall homicide rate would be nearly 75 percent higher.

Policing alone explains the New York crime-fighting difference. New York was nearly the same city in 1990 and 2010 regarding the same liberal “root causes” of crime — income inequality, poverty and drug use have not diminished. Even conservatives’ own pet “root cause” of crime — illegitimacy — hasn’t improved.

That will be a reality check for de Blasio, who subscribes to the classic liberal mode of governance: decry the rich while depending on them for revenue. This approach to governing really should have been discredited long ago: the rich already keep the city running with tax revenue and the money they spend around the city, and enabling the poorer city dwellers to improve their standard of living doesn’t get any easier when you soak the job creators.

But again, it’s hard to discredit something people have no memory of. There is no frame of reference for so many younger New Yorkers or those who have moved to the city in recent years. The New York they know–the only New York they know–is the one they live in now. They expect de Blasio to keep it that way.

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Veterans and the Price of Isolationism

If there is one sign of health in our often-dysfunctional culture, it is the almost universal respect with which the armed forces of the United States are now regarded. If a few short decades ago, the military was consistently portrayed as populated with madmen and villains in pop culture, today homage to the service of the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom is one of the few things that just about everybody from right to left can agree upon.

The reasons for this evolution are easily understood. Part of it was the national recovery from Vietnam syndrome that led to the Reagan era rebuilding of a military that had been gutted—both in terms of material support and morale—in the 1970s. That transformation was completed in the aftermath of 9/11 when Americans understood, perhaps for the first time since the 1940s, that the only thing that stood between them and harm’s way was a military that required both adequate funding and emotional reinforcement from those at home. Now after 12 long, hard years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation is also coming to terms with the debt it owes to the relative few who serve once they come home from repeated tours of duty. Given the almost unprecedented burden placed on them, it is entirely appropriate that taking care of the veterans seems to be the theme of Veterans Day this year. But as much as we must rededicate ourselves to not forgetting their sacrifices, it is just as important that a war-weary nation not fall back into the familiar pattern of isolationism that has so often cropped up in our past. Honoring the service of the veterans must also require us to not let what they have achieved be lost by negligence or the impulse to retreat from the world.

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If there is one sign of health in our often-dysfunctional culture, it is the almost universal respect with which the armed forces of the United States are now regarded. If a few short decades ago, the military was consistently portrayed as populated with madmen and villains in pop culture, today homage to the service of the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom is one of the few things that just about everybody from right to left can agree upon.

The reasons for this evolution are easily understood. Part of it was the national recovery from Vietnam syndrome that led to the Reagan era rebuilding of a military that had been gutted—both in terms of material support and morale—in the 1970s. That transformation was completed in the aftermath of 9/11 when Americans understood, perhaps for the first time since the 1940s, that the only thing that stood between them and harm’s way was a military that required both adequate funding and emotional reinforcement from those at home. Now after 12 long, hard years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation is also coming to terms with the debt it owes to the relative few who serve once they come home from repeated tours of duty. Given the almost unprecedented burden placed on them, it is entirely appropriate that taking care of the veterans seems to be the theme of Veterans Day this year. But as much as we must rededicate ourselves to not forgetting their sacrifices, it is just as important that a war-weary nation not fall back into the familiar pattern of isolationism that has so often cropped up in our past. Honoring the service of the veterans must also require us to not let what they have achieved be lost by negligence or the impulse to retreat from the world.

Over the course of the last 95 years since the first Armistice Day—which we now call by a different name—Americans have had a schizophrenic relationship with our military and the foreign policies that employed it. We have careened between a missionary impulse that saw us sending our armed forces around the globe in defense of our values and security and the flip side of the same coin in which a battle-fatigued nation sought to find comfort in ignoring foreign conflicts even when that brings danger closer to our shores. While our leaders have sometimes erred by fighting in places where wars might have been avoided, such as Vietnam or Iraq, the inclination to overreact to the cost of those fights has often proved just as costly. We did not honor the veterans of World War One by being unprepared for World War Two. Nor did we honor the bloody and unappreciated sacrifices of Americans in Vietnam by slumbering into the 21st century when the challenge of Islamist terrorists brought war to our doorsteps on 9/11. Today many Americans are sick of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and wish again to “come home” and let the rest of the world shift for itself by pretending that threats from Iran and its terror network can be appeased. But the cost of that folly will be paid not by failed politicians and diplomats but by U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who will once again be asked to step into the breach.

Honoring our veterans must also mean protecting the security that generations of American warriors have bought with their blood. Just as Americans must vow today to, as Abraham Lincoln said in the waning days of the Civil War, “bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have born the battle and for his widow and orphan,” so, too, must we ensure that the policies our nation pursues must not foment future conflicts through lack of vigilance and foolish faith that evil can be ignored or bought off. Today is the day to remember those who served and to also keep in mind that feckless leaders sow the wind while it is the veterans who reap the whirlwind of war.

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The Right Response to an Iranian Nuclear Freeze

It is widely rumored that French objections prevented agreement on what would have been a bad deal with Iran at the Geneva talks this weekend. If so, I join my colleagues who have already written on the subject in a heart-felt Vive la France!

But the negotiations, while interrupted, have not ended. They are due to resume November 20. The question is what offer the P5+1 (i.e., the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) will put on the table next time.

This time around, the U.S. was apparently dangling the carrot of giving the mullahs access to tens of billions of dollars in Iranian funds frozen in Western banks and lifting some existing sanctions. Iran, its economy rapidly deteriorating, desperately needs access to those reserves. In return, however, Iran was apparently not willing to give up its supposed “right” to enrich uranium–i.e., its ability to maintain breakout capacity to make a nuclear weapon on short notice. Nor, if the leaks are to be believed, was Iran willing to stop construction on a new plutonium heavy-water reactor at Arak, which gives it another path to the bomb.

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It is widely rumored that French objections prevented agreement on what would have been a bad deal with Iran at the Geneva talks this weekend. If so, I join my colleagues who have already written on the subject in a heart-felt Vive la France!

But the negotiations, while interrupted, have not ended. They are due to resume November 20. The question is what offer the P5+1 (i.e., the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) will put on the table next time.

This time around, the U.S. was apparently dangling the carrot of giving the mullahs access to tens of billions of dollars in Iranian funds frozen in Western banks and lifting some existing sanctions. Iran, its economy rapidly deteriorating, desperately needs access to those reserves. In return, however, Iran was apparently not willing to give up its supposed “right” to enrich uranium–i.e., its ability to maintain breakout capacity to make a nuclear weapon on short notice. Nor, if the leaks are to be believed, was Iran willing to stop construction on a new plutonium heavy-water reactor at Arak, which gives it another path to the bomb.

The fact that Iran was not willing to take what the French foreign minister called a “sucker’s deal” shows just how committed it is to the nuclear program and how hard it will be to achieve meaningful results in these talks.

The debate now in Washington is what to do about further sanctions. Many voices in and out of Congress argue for enacting even tougher sanctions on Iranian finances that would effectively collapse the value of Iran’s currency. That certainly makes more sense than prematurely lifting existing sanctions. But Washington doesn’t have to do either.

If Iran is serious about a nuclear freeze, then the appropriate response is not a dismantlement of sanctions–that should only occur if Iran renounces its “right” of enrichment and begins to dismantle its nuclear program. The appropriate response to Iran verifiably stopping work on building a nuclear weapon should be the U.S. and its allies stopping to work on enacting further sanctions.

The threat of more sanctions being enacted by Congress should serve as an effective cudgel to win minimal concessions from the Iranians, assuming they are serious about getting a deal. And delaying the enactment of these additional sanctions costs little–whereas giving Iran access to frozen assets and partially lifting existing sanctions is a gift of inestimable valuable to the Islamic Republic. Such a concession, which would be hard to reverse, should be traded only for something more substantial than a temporary pause in the Iranian nuclear program.

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Rouhani’s Reign of Terror

Diplomats have now left Geneva with a nuclear deal with Iran tantalizingly close, but uncompleted. Today, Le Monde outlined the French government’s reasons for refusing to sign onto the deal:

For the 5+1 group as a whole, “there are two or three points that are still causing difficulties with the Iranians, and I hope that they will be surmounted,” Laurent Fabius added.  “If we don’t reach an agreement, that will cause a major problem in a few months’ time….” France’s part in the failure of the negotiations has been criticized by several observers, who stress the French foreign minister’s omnipresence and tendency to warn against a cut price agreement.  According to Paris, clarifications are necessary on three main points –- the Arak power plant, the future of stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium, and the enrichment issue in general.

The current diplomatic process with Iran dates back 20 years when German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel proposed “a critical dialogue”–dialogue because that’s the lifeblood of diplomacy, and “critical” because Kinkel promised that the dialogue would tackle not only diplomatic issues relating to Iran’s external behavior but also tough issues such as Iran’s atrocious human-rights abuses.

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Diplomats have now left Geneva with a nuclear deal with Iran tantalizingly close, but uncompleted. Today, Le Monde outlined the French government’s reasons for refusing to sign onto the deal:

For the 5+1 group as a whole, “there are two or three points that are still causing difficulties with the Iranians, and I hope that they will be surmounted,” Laurent Fabius added.  “If we don’t reach an agreement, that will cause a major problem in a few months’ time….” France’s part in the failure of the negotiations has been criticized by several observers, who stress the French foreign minister’s omnipresence and tendency to warn against a cut price agreement.  According to Paris, clarifications are necessary on three main points –- the Arak power plant, the future of stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium, and the enrichment issue in general.

The current diplomatic process with Iran dates back 20 years when German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel proposed “a critical dialogue”–dialogue because that’s the lifeblood of diplomacy, and “critical” because Kinkel promised that the dialogue would tackle not only diplomatic issues relating to Iran’s external behavior but also tough issues such as Iran’s atrocious human-rights abuses.

There is a consistent pattern—certainly true under Iran’s former “reformist” president Mohammad Khatami—that as Iranian officials launch a charm offensive toward the West, they simultaneously crack down at home in order to make clear to the public that under no circumstances should the Iranian people believe that the Iranian leadership was abandoning their commitment to revolutionary values. Usually, those living in the periphery of the state suffer worse, if only because Iranian officials recognize that outside journalists do not cover those areas.

That appears to be what is occurring now. According to a Reuters report based on a conversation with Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi, the exiled leader of Iran’s most prominent ethnic Kurdish party:

“Obviously he has played very well so far, managing to escape from some crises as well as deceiving some of the Iranian peoples,” Haji-Ahmadi said, but this would end if he fell short of election pledges in a country hungry for change… Rouhani had released political prisoners, but none were of non-Persian ethnicity, he said. He highlighted the killings of 52 Iranian dissidents in a camp in eastern Iraq in September, which he said was neglected abroad. The dissidents belonged to the Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK), which wants Iran’s clerical leaders overthrown. They are no longer welcome in Iraq under the Tehran-aligned, Shi’ite Muslim-led government. Haji-Ahmadi also pointed to Iran’s execution of 16 people in a day last month, most of them Baluchi, Sunni Muslims who lived near the Pakistan border, as well as two PJAK members.

The United Nations’s special rapporteur has also said that the human rights situation has not improved under Rouhani:

“The human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to warrant serious concern, with no sign of improvement,” said Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. Among other things, Dr. Shaheed expressed concern over Iran’s high level of executions, continuing discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, poor prison conditions, and limits on freedom of expression and association. He also said that religious minorities in Iran, including Baha’is, Christians, Sunni Muslims, and others, “are increasingly subjected to various forms of legal discrimination, including in employment and education, and often face arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment.”

The Geneva talks did not result in an agreement largely because of French objections. How sad it was that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were willing to sign off on an agreement that not only would do nothing to constrain Iran’s production of plutonium at Arak, but also would make no demands that Iran curb its imprisonment and executions of religious and ethnic minorities. At the same time, all those so willing to believe that Rouhani has brought change should simply take a look at his behavior inside Iran.

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Arthur Herman: COMMENTARY Is the Point of the Conservative Spear

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

In 1975 the Economist said of COMMENTARY: “The world’s best magazine?” Take away the question mark and that statement still stands, thirty-eight years later. It’s still the magazine America’s liberals dread most, and the one America’s enemies can’t afford to ignore. It’s the point of the conservative spear in the never-ending fight against the insanity of the left, whether it’s in foreign policy or economic policy, social and cultural issues, or the arts–and no one does a better job standing up for Western culture and America’s interests and those of its allies, including Israel. In fact, surviving the next three years–the Obama administration home stretch–and building the foundations for an American resurgence afterward will be impossible without reading COMMENTARY in print and online.

Help support COMMENTARY. Please click here to donate.

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Is Turkey Supporting Al-Qaeda in Syria?

Perhaps the most dangerous group in Syria is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front. The group does not hide its sympathy for al-Qaeda and targets more moderate Syrian opposition groups alongside the Syrian regime. While Syrians comprise most Syrian opposition groups, the Nusra Front counts Libyans, Saudis, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, Germans, and Turks among its fighters. Around Syria, it is an open secret that Turkey supports—or at least has supported—the Nusra Front.

Not only has Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied that the Nusra Front are terrorists—more like honorable jihadists, he suggested in the face of questions from an opposition leader—but Turkish forces have also apparently used al-Nusra as a proxy against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish party linked to Turkey’s own Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which remains overwhelmingly popular among Syria’s Kurdish population. If it comes to a choice between an al-Qaeda affiliate and a secular Kurdish party controlling territory, Erdoğan sides with al-Qaeda.

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Perhaps the most dangerous group in Syria is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front. The group does not hide its sympathy for al-Qaeda and targets more moderate Syrian opposition groups alongside the Syrian regime. While Syrians comprise most Syrian opposition groups, the Nusra Front counts Libyans, Saudis, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, Germans, and Turks among its fighters. Around Syria, it is an open secret that Turkey supports—or at least has supported—the Nusra Front.

Not only has Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied that the Nusra Front are terrorists—more like honorable jihadists, he suggested in the face of questions from an opposition leader—but Turkish forces have also apparently used al-Nusra as a proxy against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish party linked to Turkey’s own Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which remains overwhelmingly popular among Syria’s Kurdish population. If it comes to a choice between an al-Qaeda affiliate and a secular Kurdish party controlling territory, Erdoğan sides with al-Qaeda.

When I asked Iraqi counterterrorism officials who monitor the transit of al-Qaeda last summer about the Turkish relationship with the Nusra Front, they were careful. “Let’s just say that whenever the Nusra Front wants to have a meeting, they know they can do so inside Turkey and won’t be bothered,” one official told me. While diplomatic tension between Iraq and Turkey remains strong, the official was able to give very specific examples that suggest he was not simply trying to tar Turkey.

Erdoğan, himself, however has bristled at any suggestion Turkey provides safe haven or even free passage to the Nusra Front. Now, however, there is video evidence. CNN International has an excellent video report on the transit of jihadis through the Hatay airport in Turkey and into Syria. Perhaps it is time for officials to question the judgment of President Obama for his friendship with and personal endorsement of Erdoğan, who appears not only to sympathize with the most radical elements in Syria’s civil war, but also to be a liar.

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Iran, France, and Memories of 1967

Like Jonathan, I breathed a sigh of gratitude to France this weekend for thwarting–at least for now–a horrendous deal that would have granted Iran significant and probably irreversible sanctions relief while letting it continue making rapid progress toward a nuclear bomb. But contrary to the snide Western diplomat who accused Laurent Fabius of making trouble just to achieve “relevance,” I can think of two substantive reasons for the French foreign minister’s strong stance. One is that France has consistently taken a tougher line against Iran’s nuclear program than the Obama administration has. But another may stem from historical memory–and the clue is Fabius’s statement that “The security concerns of Israel and all the countries of the region have to be taken into account.”

At first glance, this is astounding. If any party to the talks were going to spare a thought for Israel’s concerns, one would expect it to be the U.S., or even Germany: Both are closer Israeli allies than France, which usually leads the anti-Israel camp. But France attaches great importance to averting Israeli military action against Iran; that’s precisely why it pushed for a European oil embargo on Iran (“We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline”). And France has a very specific historical reason for doubting the widespread view that Israel wouldn’t dare attack Iran in defiance of its major patron: It’s called the Six-Day War.

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Like Jonathan, I breathed a sigh of gratitude to France this weekend for thwarting–at least for now–a horrendous deal that would have granted Iran significant and probably irreversible sanctions relief while letting it continue making rapid progress toward a nuclear bomb. But contrary to the snide Western diplomat who accused Laurent Fabius of making trouble just to achieve “relevance,” I can think of two substantive reasons for the French foreign minister’s strong stance. One is that France has consistently taken a tougher line against Iran’s nuclear program than the Obama administration has. But another may stem from historical memory–and the clue is Fabius’s statement that “The security concerns of Israel and all the countries of the region have to be taken into account.”

At first glance, this is astounding. If any party to the talks were going to spare a thought for Israel’s concerns, one would expect it to be the U.S., or even Germany: Both are closer Israeli allies than France, which usually leads the anti-Israel camp. But France attaches great importance to averting Israeli military action against Iran; that’s precisely why it pushed for a European oil embargo on Iran (“We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, even if it means a rise in the price of oil and gasoline”). And France has a very specific historical reason for doubting the widespread view that Israel wouldn’t dare attack Iran in defiance of its major patron: It’s called the Six-Day War.

Though few people remember nowadays, in 1967, Paris occupied much the same position that Washington occupies now with respect to Israel: Not only was France Israel’s chief arms supplier and Security Council patron, but it was the only country willing to supply Israel with essential equipment such as fighter jets. Israel’s air force fought the Six-Day War with French Mirages; only the following year, in 1968, did America for the first time agree to sell it Phantom jets.

Consequently, Charles de Gaulle had every reason to think that when he spoke, Israel would listen. And the French president’s message in 1967 was unequivocal: Under no circumstances must Israel launch a preemptive strike; if it did, it could kiss French patronage goodbye. Israel heard the message loud and clear–and preempted anyway. Facing what it deemed an existential threat, it decided that even the loss of its sole military supplier was the lesser evil.

France knows that today, Israel deems Iran’s nuclear program an existential threat. France also knows that Israel would probably risk less by defying the Obama administration than it did by defying France in 1967: De Gaulle severed the military relationship completely, refusing even to deliver planes and gunboats Israel had already paid for, at a time when Israel had no assurance that Washington would fill the gap; today, given Israel’s strong support in Congress, a similarly total American arms embargo seems unlikely. As a result, France may understand what Washington seems not to: that utterly disregarding Israel’s concerns about Iran could push it to preempt despite its patron’s objections, just as it did in 1967.

This also explains why France was particularly opposed to a provision allowing Iran to continue building its heavy-water reactor in Arak. Once the reactor is finished and ready to go online, Iran could turn the switch before an attack could be mounted, so Israel is unlikely to wait until it gets to that point. Thus if the goal is to prevent an Israeli attack, halting progress at Arak is critical.

So by all means, heartfelt thanks are due the French. But a nod may also be due to the deterrent Israel has created by its proven willingness to defend itself by itself.

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